Community Solar FAQs

Community Solar Logo

UPDATE: December 2017

Term Glossary:

  • Photovoltaic (PV): process of converting sunlight into electricty
  • Community Solar: a power-generating solar array located in one area for the benefit of many members.
  • OPALCO Community Solar (OCS): OPALCO’s community solar array to be located on Decatur Island
  • Array: a collection of solar panels wired together to produce electricity
  • Unit: one piece of the whole project; part of a solar panel; measured in watts.
  • Simple Payback: when you get your money back
  • Watt (W): a unit of power, and power is the rate at which energy is consumed or produced
  • Kilowatt (KW): one thousand watts
  • Kilowatt Hour (kWh): 1000 watts consumed/produced for one hour
  • Energy Credit: money back on your OPALCO bill based on your Units production
  • Participants: OPALCO members who purchase units of the Community Solar project
  • Membership: Co-op Members (if you have an active OPALCO account, you are a member)

 

Quick Facts:

  • Total size of the array: ~504 kW DC, between 350-400 kW AC inverter
  • Annual Production: ~570,000 kWh; first full year estimated to be 579,761, with a 0.5% degradation each following year.
  • Location: Decatur Island substation on ~3.6 acres
  • When will the array start producing energy: by 6/30/18
  • How much to participate: $150 per unit
  • How many units: 6,300 total
  • How much will the project cost: Approximately $945,000
  • How many units can each member purchase: limited by member interest (TBD)
  • Number of panels: 1,260 each with a 400W capacity
  • How many solar units per panel: 5 (80W each)
  • Low income: 10% of the array will be reserved for low income participants, which requires funding of ~$94,500. At this point Bonneville Environmental Foundation (BEF) has agreed to match up to $50,000 and we are working with other organizations to contribute the remainder.
  • Fun fact: Each panel weighs about 47 lbs., which makes the whole array about the weight of three garbage trucks.

 

Frequently Asked Questions:

  • How does the program work? Participants purchase the right to the production output of a number of units of the project. A unit represents a set amount of watts, and participants get a credit on their bill each month for the production of those solar units. In addition, participants will get a check, annually (for as long as the funds last, estimated 5 years), for WA State Production Incentives credit, which is administered through Washington State University. OPALCO will take care of operating, maintaining, upkeep, and administration of the array and community solar program.

  • How do members investThe project will be ready for member participation in early 2018 –send an email to solar@opalco.com and we will let you know when it’s open. Members will fill out an application online and request the number of units they want to purchase. Staff will confirm the number of solar units granted based on the total number of requests received. Once your number of units on your Participation Agreement are confirmed, the charge will be added to your monthly electric bill and payment for the solar units can be made by check or credit card.

  • Who can participate? Any OPALCO member in good standing with an active meter can participate.  Non-members can also participate by donating Solar Units to an active member or OPALCO’s Energy Assist Program to help low-income member households, similar to OPALCO “Gifts of Power” certificates.

  • Will OPALCO lend me money so I can invest? For this first phase, member financing is not available. Payment can be made by check or credit card. Members can obtain financing independently through their local bank. OPALCO may consider on-bill financing for future community solar projects.

  • How much does it cost? Minimum investment is $150.  Maximum investment is going to depend on member interest.

  • How long will it take to get my money back? Assuming participants receive the full state incentive amount, we project a simple payback of approximately nine years.

  • Does Community Solar offset my energy usage? Yes, this will vary depending on how many units you participate in. For most participants it will offset a small portion of your usage. For example, the typical home using 1,000 kWh per month would need to invest ~$20,000 to offset its full consumption (kWh only). Please note that a goal of the program is to spread the benefit among as many participants as possible, within reason.

  • What happens after I make my money back? The term of the Participation Agreement is 20 years, so each month for 20 years you will continue to get a credit on your bill for the production of your units.

  • What can I do with my Solar Unit/s if my membership status changes (if I leave)?If you are no longer an OPALCO member, you can transfer your Unit/s to another active OPALCO member. If you move within the service territory you can transfer them to your new location. You can’t take ‘em with you if you leave the County. If you do not designate a recipient your shares will be donated to the OPALCO Energy Assistance Program.

  • How do low-income members benefit? 10% of the production on this project is targeted to benefit members from low-income households. The value of the production credits will be deposited into the Energy Assist program for distribution to qualified members.

  • When will OPALCO build it? Construction will begin in Spring of 2018 and it will be completed by the end of June 2018.

  • Who is actually building the array? We are excited to partner with a local Northwest solar installer, Puget Sound Solar.

  • Will I own my piece of the Community Solar array? No. Participants will own the output of their proportionate share of the array for the term of the Participation Agreement. OPALCO will operate and maintain the array. Member participation is an investment in the project with a return on investment but no legal ownership. 

  • How will the rate of pay back to participants be determined? The Community Solar energy credit rate is determined by the Board based on a detailed rate analysis just like OPALCO rates and tariffs are for energy consumption and net-metering. The rate at the start of the program will be $0.1007, matching the current residential rate.

  • Why are you doing it? To give more people access to the benefits of solar energy for a fraction of the cost, compared to rooftop.  Community Solar lets individuals invest in smaller units of local renewable power. As outlined in OPALCO’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), this is just one step in providing increased redundancy, and the capability to re-route power for emergency services through use of local renewable energy and energy storage systems. Please note it will take multiple projects and a host of system upgrades to fully accomplish this goal.

  • What happens to the energy after it’s generated? From an engineering perspective, the energy produced by the array will be consumed by the power grid or stored in our battery storage system where it will be held until we need it (e.g. for immediate consumption, to curtail future peak demands, or potentially for emergency services during major outages).  OPALCO received a grant from the Washington Dept. of Commerce to pay for a large portion the battery storage system. 

  • Is this project consistent with OPALCO’s BPA contract? In short, yes. There are two thresholds that BPA looks at for local renewable energy, first exceeding 200kW-AC and then 1MW-AC. This project will be over the first threshold and requires an application to interconnect a renewable resource.

  • How will I be able to monitor the array? We will have a camera stationed at the site to record the construction and completed array in real-time. We will also create a time-lapse video of construction once completed. Array production statistics will also be incorporated into the Community Solar area of the OPALCO website.  We also hope to provide on-site tours of the array once construction is completed.

  • Are there tax credits, or other incentives? Members are advised to speak with their tax advisor to determine their own tax situation.  There are state and federal incentives that are available to individuals who install solar on their own properties which are not available through this Community Solar project. We continue to advocate for solar initiatives with our elected officials in Olympia.

  • How will this project be funded? Individual member investors. Our 2017 Community Solar survey results clearly demonstrated that members prefer the project is funded by those who participate, and not through rates.

  • How do I sign up for Community Solar? Contact us! Email us at solar@opalco.com with your contact information so we can keep you up to date on the project, call at 376-3500, stop by our offices on Orcas and San Juan islands. We are collecting names and email addresses of members who are interested in purchasing Solar Units and will use that list to keep you updated as the project takes shape.

  • How can I be involved? How can I get project updates?

    • Continue to send us feedback and ask questions! Email solar@opalco.com, call us at 376-3500, or stop by our Eastsound or Friday Harbor offices.
    • Attend our Board of Directors meetings on the third Thursday of each month.
    • Subscribe to our email newsletter (www.opalco.com).

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